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Days of Our Years

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Days of Our Years

Publication date 1955
Digitizing sponsor Union Pacific Railroad
Disturbing and sometimes maudlin trilogy of accidents and their effects on railroad workers and their families, shot with virtuosity in working-class Los Angeles.


Producer Carl Dudley took to the streets and workplaces of Los Angeles to make this despairing trilogy of accidents and their devastating effects on railroad workers and families. The Days of Our Years shows a landscape full of risks and dangers, a world where something can happen every day to careless people, where those innocent of responsibility suffer the most Ñ a world, in fact, remarkably similar to ours. The menaces that its characters face daily are not age-old quarrels between clans, ethnic groups or nations, but risks faced by working people on the job. The paradox of this film is that although it was made by a railroad company and expresses highly specific corporate interests, it's also rooted in a working-class milieu and reflects this throughout every scene.
First things first. God is the ultimate authority. "It is written in the Old Testament: to each of us this allotment of years. The days of our years are three score and ten." The film opens with a choir, a church, a minister and a Biblical quote.
In the age-old tradition of holding workers (rather than management or the makers of machines) responsible for accidents, this film shows stories of people who are "the victims of themselves." "I know the road does everything in its power to prevent accidents," says the minister/narrator, and saddles these workingmen with complete responsibility for the risks they face. This is a common theme of safety films, which combine a healthy degree of corporate self-interest with an occasional concern for the well-being of workers and consumers.
If we're not to sell this film short, though, we should look beyond its sleazier side. When ephemeral films channel to us evidence of yesterday's everyday life and culture, evidence we'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, they're really at their best; and this is a great example. The Days of Our Years transcends its limited mandate to present a portrait of a white working-class Los Angeles, a culture which has now pretty much vanished. This L.A. is populated by working people who live near the railroad freight terminal and repair shops in places like Commerce, Vernon and Bell. Joe Tindler, a road electrical foreman is in love with Helen, a waitress at a local luncheonette; they're saving up to get married. Two buddies on a yard train crew (George Price and Fred Bellows) plan to retire together and travel the world. And Charlie O'Neill is excited beyond words at the imminence of a new baby. These are pretty basic aspirations: marriage, a new home, retirement "after forty-two years of good, honest work," a new baby. In each case the wish is not granted because of an accident. This is not the California of 77 Sunset Strip and the Cleavers; it's a working-class community resembling the urban Northeast rather than the suburbs and beach cities of southern California. Its people live more traditional lives and work at jobs that have been in existence for over a century, and the film shows this with skill and precision.
The strength of the film lies in the details. When we're introduced to Joe Tindler, he's shaving his neck in his bachelor room. Keep an eye on that neck. Helen looks into a polished toaster and fantasizes her future with Joe, including the purchase of that "Plan 5 Model Home." The Prices and Bellows sit planning their retirement at a picnic table covered with National Geographics opened to ads for Hawaiian vacations. Larry Bellows pulls down a windowshade as he changes clothes, and George Price sees this as a rejection and rebuke. Saddest of all, young welder Charlie O'Neill, newly blinded and wearing Roy Orbison shades, gropes around his baby son's crib in search of a toy locomotive.
We mentioned the Biblical allusions. There is something almost scriptural in the rhythm and simplicity of the narration. "George tried to go to Fred Bellows' funeral, but the doctor said no. You don't walk around two days after a heart attack. But they couldn't keep him away from the window." The minister/narrator has almost complete control over the narration; everything is voiceover except for the screams of the victims.
A profound contradiction embraces most safety films, a mismatch between ends and means. Quite often the most effective accident reduction strategy for a filmmaker seems to be to present dramatized accidents. When audiences see careless, pain and suffering and their devastating effects, it's thought they'll act more safely. But does it really work that way? Simply examine your feelings as you sit and watch a film like The Days of Our Years. If you are a typical spectator, what you're doing is really waiting for the accident to happen. This is the payoff, the gratification, the closure. I'd argue that this process is distracting enough to weaken, maybe even crowd out, the intended message. In fact, The Days of Our Years builds up to the climactic accidents with great skill and drama, and it does this not once, but three times over.
Some safety films employ unorthodox measures to get the viewer's attention or focus on the risks and pitfalls of ordinary behavior. There's nothing radical about The Days of Our Years; it's simply an extremely well-made film pitting the risk of life-disrupting accidents against closely held values of ritual, community and family succession. "Let not man by his thoughtlessness diminish the blessings of the Lord." It's like a safety shoe you put on to protect your foot.

Safety Danger Lurks Safety films Safety education Union Pacific Railroad (sponsor) Railroads Railroads (accidents) Surrealism Narratives Stories Ministers Workers (railroad) Workers (shop) Workers (welders) Welding Romance Love Workers (waitresses) Marriage Fantasies Houses and homes (new) Houses and homes (model) Suburbia Fireplaces Couples (young) Accidents Irresponsibility Negligence Driving Automobiles (accidents) Collapses Heart attacks Trains Switchmen Railroads (yards) Windowshades Sons Rebukes Hostility Anger Pregnancy Childbirth Fatherhood Blindness Eyes (blinded) Visual effects (eyes being blinded by torch) Torches Babies Fathers (blind) Cigars


Reviewer: dahszil - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - October 8, 2014
Subject: amazing, it looks so real!
all done with marionettes! those puppeteers must have been amazing in them there days. i think one of you video wizards should get rid of the strings. but perhaps not because no one would know how awesome those marioneteers were.
Reviewer: JayKay49 - favoritefavorite - January 28, 2012
Subject: Moral of the Story
...some days it just doesnt pay to get out of bed.

Depressing, if not irritating film made worse by the narration.
Reviewer: magaphoto - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - September 13, 2011
Subject: comparative risks
An appropriate film for the era made, before respecting/acknowledging other cultures/religions, etc. were required or at least depicted, I am surprised at the quality of the production. The safety department must have had a respectable budget. This brings me to the point of the film. Other reviewers should consider the risks involved in working among 200+ ton trains and their associated rolling stock, compared to risks involved in using a computer keyboard. I also notice the departure from reality as generally everyone considers airliners "buses with wings"- even with the publicized reasons for the typical airline accident. I'm curious to know what the ratio between natural (weather, etc.) versus fatigue and maintenance causes for airline accidents, however minor the accident. The three causes depicted were avoidable and seem to be reinforcing established safety policy.
Reviewer: monoceros4 - favoritefavorite - October 17, 2009
Subject: You could forgive them for being loathsome sinners.
The message of this "safety" film? If you're hurt in an accident, it was your fault. If someone else is hurt in an accident, it was still probably your fault (right, George?)

All three of the victims in "The Days of Our Years" sinned against Union Pacific by caring about something other than their jobs. Joe was excited about getting married. Reward? A spinal injury. George looked forward to retirement. Reward? Social ostracism because he had the nerve to get a heart attack on the job. Ralph was overjoyed at the birth of his son. Reward? Blindness. A normal safety film actually shows people at work, getting into accidents because they're busy and want to take some stupid shortcut or neglect some precaution. "The Days of Our Years" is the only safety film, probably ever, that spends more time at its victims' homes than at their workplace. The underlying message is clear: live for something other than your job and you're begging for trouble. Judging from this film the ideal Union Pacific employee looked forward only to a desolate apartment at the end of the day (no messy off-the-clock distractions!) and quit after the first grey hair (suffer that stroke on your own time, murderer!)

The priest's voice is gentle but his tone is condescending, smug in the extreme. He stands apart, lecturing as though he were pointing out the habits of some fish in his aquarium. He keeps saying "you can forgive them" while it's clear that he forgives them nothing. Hell, he probably devotes every Sunday's homily to reminding his congregation to put work before family.
Reviewer: unzar - favoritefavoritefavorite - May 21, 2008
Subject: Let's Call it Personal Responsibility
Review removed.
Reviewer: ATSF1920 - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - May 1, 2007
Subject: A Different World
This seems clearly to be an in-house safety film, commissioned by the Union Pacific Railroad for viewing by its yard and shop employees. The message is that on-the-job accidents affect not only you, but also everyone who cares about you.

It is almost surreal to see a corporate safety film with so many religious references-- such a treatment would surely be met with litigation today-- but this is simply a reflection of how much our culture has changed since 1955. A half-century ago, such references would not have been seen as controversial or provocative, but would have served very well to reinforce the gravitas of the message. The clergyman character would not have been perceived as a scolding presence, but as a comforting one. Also, fifty yers ago sarcasm and cynicism were not seen as the clever answer to every situation, and this material would have seemed far less "maudlin" to its intended audience.
Reviewer: GE_Pretzel - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - May 12, 2006
Subject: They don't get much sappier than this...
Psalm 90:10 serves as the point of reference for this cloying Union Pacific Railroad film that addresses the dangers of recklessness while at work. Narrated by a minister presiding over a parish in a railroad town, viewers are warned of how easily preventable accidents can forever tarnish one's enjoyment of life. As the minister strolls about the streets and encounters various individuals who have attended his parish, he reminisces and offers stories about three different railroad workers and the tragic consequences that they incurred as a result of their carelessness. While they are all believable, each story is constructed in such a way as to elicit maximum emotional response. The first one regards Joe, whose poor driving habits land him a severe neck injury that promptly snuffs out the fantasy envisioned by his daydreaming soulmate Helen. Then there's George, a veteran of the railway whose stubborn nature prevents him from averting a deadly train crash when he suffers a sudden heart attack. In the final account, new father Charlie is unable to see his son after losing his sight to the flaming tip of a welding torch. The film is overly manipulative in its sentimentalism, but it does convey an important message.
Reviewer: lostnyc - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - September 18, 2005
Subject: Interesting film
In contrast to another review, I thought the film was pretty good and I didn't see the pastor being "cold" etc., he was not interacting with the victims directly but telling their narrated story. The story was safety on the job- only, not an autobiographical sketch of accident victims.
What was amazing however, was how the fellow who had a sudden heart attack which caused a train accident was blamed for being "careless!"

I sure would love to know what the choir MUSIC is at the beginning, part of it seems to be cut off at the very start but whatever it is I sure enjoy it and would like to find out the title.
Reviewer: nightwatchdog - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - April 6, 2005
Subject: Another one bites the dust !
A "saftey" movie scary enough to make you quit your job at the choo - choo yards. If this movie dosn't shock you into paying attention at work then your doomed.

Recomended but for all the wrong reasons....the unintentional sick humor, the period cars and clothes, and the minister / narrator who seems to be from the "gods divine plunishment" school of pastorial care....good grief, I pitty those he gives "comfort" to....
Reviewer: huskobon - favoritefavoritefavorite - July 11, 2004
Subject: Fair, but not well played
Okay, you have Joe who is a very in love person and thats fine. Then Joe gets to crazy for a woman and then acts in craze, and gets into a wreck. Then you got George, though I could see it was a mistake, he really should of went home if he felt out of it. I do understand that the events can be real and it's a fair guidence movie, but the story roles just didn't fit up to a great conclusion.
Reviewer: mjwise - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - July 10, 2004
Subject: Here's Some Sad Stuff That Happens
I assume this is some sort of safety film that Union Pacific once sponsored for its employees. It tells the tale of three accidents, a truck wreck, a trainyard accident, and a factory accident, all due to carelessness. Its told through an unbelievably cold narrator, ostensibly the pastor of the local church. This pastor-narrator seems more a documentarian than anything else, as the most reaching out he ever does is to touch a girl on the head, once. The rest of the time, you can't even tell he cares about anyone involved in these accidents outside from a purely voyeuristic point of view. In any case, the accidents are fairly well portrayed for a low budget film.

No one dies from their accidents, yet they may well as have, because life is apparently meaningless after disability according to this film. A man with a (permanent?) neck injury is always unhappy, a man who suffered a heart attack is embittered and shunned, and a man who loses his sight "never sees his baby son." Is this film trying to avoid accidents or argue for purging undesirables from society? It can be hard to tell the difference in this film.

Of course, it's a must see.
Reviewer: Ryan Schweitzer - favoritefavoritefavorite - June 19, 2004
Subject: Depressing...
Man, talk about a maudlin drag of a film, now I know where Charlie Kaufman got his inspiration for most of his scriptwriting!!!! :):):) (kidding!)

Anyhoo, this film is quite a downer to watch, and the fact that the pastor in this film seems indifferent and unhelpful to the "victims" in this story makes it all the more bleak.

And the scene where (spoiler ahead!) the new father accidentally gets a acetylene torch in his eyes is somewhat disturbing, it almost had a Brakhage-like aesthetic to it even...

Overall, this film is an interesting watch, but quirte sad in some aspects... At least it could of had the pastor trying to comfort & counsel the victims & their families, instead of having him be a aloof observer...
Reviewer: coffeebot - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - June 13, 2004
Subject: Accident-Hater Lenny won't go to college
Joe literally travels at 'break-neck' speed and DREAMY, dreaming Helen plans to burden him with "Little Joe" who was meant to keep her from being lonely. If anyone deserves to have an accident, it's Helen who hardly works when she's dreaming. How did the pastor know he was part of Helen's dream? Spooky.

Careless George inflicts his heart-attack on everyone around him. So much for work-ethic vs. calling in sick. Ineffectual train-town Pastor refuses to help anyone, least of all, George who believes Lenny hates him. The creepy, Aryan pastor just stares at people. Thank goodness for modern therapy.

Suave, sunglassed Charlie trades eyesight for cigars by his final, fatal forgetfulness, skipping the erotic, "gentle pressure to the shoulder" but "you can forgive him." Forgive him? What about the guy with the torch? I hope he rots in hell!

Lessons learned: fall victim of an accident and be prepared to withdraw from life, morose and fatalistic. Suggestion: don't expect any help from your pastor.
Reviewer: Film Fan - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - May 27, 2004
Subject: Incidental Victims
The moral of the story: Don't act stupid on the job because your carelessness not only damages your life, but the lives of those closest to you.

All this is told from the perspective of a local minister who is intimately involved in the lives of those caught in the aftermath (officiating marriages and funerals, visiting the injured). A well-made, low budget film. If you're a Baby Boomer interested in trains (my father was a conductor) and can look past the maudlin tone of the minister's narration, then this is your film.
Reviewer: Spuzz - favoritefavoritefavorite - September 5, 2003
Subject: Marriage with a neck brace!
A silly, melodramatic overview of how Union Pacific workers got injured or killed on the job. orkers are maimed, burned, thrown from trains etc and while of course, somber music is playing. Also, all of this is tied somewhat to religion, for what reason I'm not sure. This is not bad, but not as deliriously great as 'Shake Hands With Danger'
Reviewer: Christine Hennig - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - October 20, 2002
Subject: The Days of Our Years
One of the most maudlin safety films ever made. A pastor in a railroad town tells us the tragic stories of three of his parishioners, all of whom were victims of the safety film's ubiquitous bugaboo: carelessness. A truck driver speeds on the way to meet his fiancee, gets in an accident, and ends up with a permanent spinal cord injury; an engineer approaching retirement has a heart attack while working and accidentally runs over and kills his best friend and across-the-street neighbor; and a new father is blinded by a welding torch when he startles a welder while handing out cigars. Of course, the railroad (the Union Pacific, who made this film) is in no way responsible for these accidents, the pastor reminds us over and over. And, of course, the victims and their families are doomed to a life of bitterness forever after. Most safety films, in an attempt to produce feelings of pity for accident victims (and scare their audiences), actually promote appalling attitudes towards them. This film is one of the worst of the bunch in that respect. Although the fiancee of the injured truck driver marries him anyway (because she's "that kind of girl"), she wears ordinary street clothes to the very sparsely-attended weddingÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂI guess that people with spinal cord injuries aren't entitled to fancy weddings. The new father who was blinded sits on the porch bitterly smoking and occasionally playing with the baby (whom he, of course, "has never seen"). The guy who had the heart attack gets the worst of the lotÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂit's obvious that his neighbors now despise him, and deservedly so. How careless of him to have had a heart attack! In all cases, the victims' lives are shown to be essentially over. Rehabilitation and adaptation to disabilities is not even hinted at. I wonder if some of the prejudice and discrimination towards the disabled is due to films like this.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: *****. Also available on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, Episode #623: The Amazing Transparent Man and Our Secret Century, Vol. 4: Menace and Jeopardy.
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